Why There’s A Fake Town in Michigan

Imagine driving on a street with a self-driven car rolling along next to you. There’s no one controlling the car, yet the car’s moving perfectly as if driven by human acumen. The age of self-driven cars is here, people. Brace yourselves for the era of automated vehicles and a leap of faith in technology.

But how do we know these cars have been programmed efficiently and tested to the extremes? We know because University of Michigan in the States has been testing these newly designed cars in their own Ann Arbor campus which facilitates a 32-acre environment for the same. Why such a vast expanse of land for the sake of testing, you ask? It’s simple. Only a city can present situations that cars normally face on the road. And this built-in-the-campus “city”, called the MCity, provides all the illusions of driving in a real city.

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Talk about faking it. This entire town is made of fake buildings, made-up street names and fake expressways. Even the pedestrians (one of them being Sebastian) and cyclists, additions to the town later this year, will be mechanized dummies. Traffic signs, fire hydrants, trash cans and mailboxes—all very realistic—recreate the real-world situations that help test the cars for their response and quickness. Urban and suburban blocks, a simulated underpass, two railroad crossings, two traffic circles—all these complications on roads challenge the cars to be a success on real roads.

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The project M City is being funded by Mobility Transformation Center, Department of Transportation, and technology and car companies, costing about $10 million so far. 48 companies including Ford, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Verizon, Xerox and Bosch have signed up as partners while Google and Uber have stayed out of this investment.

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The MCity will be on the Nokia’s Here group’s GPS systems soon with an accuracy of 10 to 20 centimeters to help self-driving cars do their job more safely. The artificial tree canopy can block these GPS signals easily with built-in water tubes that simulate the moisture in trees. Such brilliancy of technology supporting the testing of another brilliant technology—the university’s MTC has taken testing to a whole new level with a peek into the future.

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The questions for us Indians to pose right now: How long before these self-driven cars with their remarkable GPS system find their way into our third-world country? Will they indeed reduce the risk of road accidents or increase them?

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